Today in 1958, in response to the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 four months earlier, the U.S. Department of Defense issued Directive 5105.15, establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The agency, later renamed DARPA, went on to instigate “technological innovations that have fundamentally reshaped much of the technological landscape, with breakthrough advances in information technologies, sensors, and materials that have had pervasive economic and societal benefits.” One of these innovations was the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet.
Today, “DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use.”
But fifty-three years ago today, “the political and defense communities recognized the need for a high-level defense organization to formulate and execute R&D projects that would expand the frontiers of technology beyond the immediate and specific requirements of the Military Services and their laboratories. The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik showed that a fundamental change was needed in America’s defense science and technology programs.”